The United Kingdom has said it intends to unilaterally repeal certain trade rules for Northern Ireland agreed with the EU upon its departure from the Union, including border controls on goods, and has challenged the role of the European Court of Justice.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described his government’s bill as “relatively trivial” steps to improve trade and cut red tape, Reuters reported.
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said Brussels’ reaction would be proportionate, but ruled out renegotiating the trade protocol.
“Any renegotiation would simply lead to additional legal uncertainty for people and businesses in Northern Ireland,” Shefchovich said in a statement.
Tensions between Brussels and London have been simmering for months after Britain accused the EU of bureaucracy hindering the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland. Britain has negotiated with Brussels rules for trade between the United Kingdom, which is in the United Kingdom, and Ireland, which is a member of the EU. Their aim was not to rebuild the border between the two parts of the island of Ireland but as part of the Good Friday Agreement that ended the violence.
“I am ready to negotiate with the EU, but they must be ready to change the terms of this agreement, which is causing very serious problems in Northern Ireland,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
The European Commission has said that no talks can be held and that the terms have been agreed in the Brexit agreement, which has been ratified by both sides.
The new trade dispute comes as Britain faces high inflation and poor economic forecasts. Johnson said any talk of a trade war would be a “gross, gross overreaction”.
London plans to replace customs checks, which are mandatory for the European common market, with a “green channel” for goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland. It would put an end to the application of European tax rules and the role of the European Court of Justice as the sole arbitrator in disputes. It also envisions the introduction of a dual regulatory regime, which scares businesses fearing rising costs for trade across the Irish Sea.
The EU could take legal action or possibly revise the terms of the free trade agreement it has negotiated with Britain. The bill is about to pass through the British Parliament before it can be changed in practice.
The United Kingdom’s commitment to the Belfast Agreement
Today’s prosperous Northern Ireland is different from decades past. Northern Ireland was the scene of a decades-long conflict between paramilitary groups known as The Troubles, which killed more than 3,500 people and ended with the signing of the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement) in 1998.
Peace and stability have been difficult to achieve in Northern Ireland. Much of the progress we are seeing is based on the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement), which marks the triumph of compromise and tolerance after decades of instability. The agreement established a government in which power was shared based on consent and equal respect for all communities. It strengthened North-South cooperation (between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) on the island of Ireland and extended the East-West cooperation arrangements (between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland).
The successful operation of the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement) and its institutions is crucial for the progress and peace of Northern Ireland. But these arrangements are under increasing pressure as the executive of Northern Ireland is not fully operational.
The reason is that the Northern Ireland Protocol agreed upon between the United Kingdom and the European Union, does not have the necessary support from part of the community. This is important because both history and the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement) teach us that in Northern Ireland, only an agreement supported by society as a whole matter.
At the heart of this lack of agreement are the practical problems caused by the Protocol.
Customs formalities for the transport of goods within the United Kingdom mean that companies face significant costs and documentation. Many British companies have withdrawn their products from Northern Ireland, and some have already completely given up trading there.
Large British companies report that the bureaucracy around the movement of goods that go to Northern Ireland – ie. remain in the UK is five times higher than for goods exported from the UK to the EU. This situation is unacceptable and unjustified, and no responsible government can allow it.
These problems have led to growing concerns that relations between Britain and Northern Ireland have been undermined. Without resolving these and other problems, we will not be able to rebuild the government and maintain the hard-won progress supported by the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement).
Our clear preference is to achieve results through negotiations with the EU. We have worked tirelessly for this purpose and will continue to work. The United Kingdom has been negotiating with the EU for almost 18 months.
We believe that the United Kingdom has proposed a comprehensive and sensible solution to achieve the objectives of the Protocol. It includes a trusted trader scheme to provide the EU with real-time trade data, ensuring that goods destined for Northern Ireland do not subsequently enter the EU’s single market.
We believe that our proposed solution will meet both our initial objectives and those of the EU on the Protocol. It will address the problems of East-West trade while protecting the EU’s Single Market and the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement).
The challenge is that a real solution to these problems requires a change in the Protocol itself, as its current text does not allow the implementation of these solutions. However, the mandate given by the EU does not allow the Protocol to be amended. That is why, while we welcome the spirit of the current EU proposals, we point out that they are simply not in a position to address the main problems.
Our common goal must be to find a solution that has the widest possible support from the whole of society for years to come and to defend the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement) in all its dimensions. That is why we have announced our intention to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to make the necessary, targeted changes to the Protocol.
In parallel with the introduction of the legislation, we remain ready for further talks with the EU if we can achieve the same result through negotiations, and we remain committed to them. But the very difficult and serious situation in Northern Ireland means that we cannot afford to procrastinate any longer.
Let it be clear: The United Kingdom has no plans to repeal the Protocol. Our goal is to achieve the goals stated in the Protocol. We will consolidate those provisions in the Protocol that are working and we will correct those that are not working.
We will do this in a way that is deeply respected by both unions: the United Kingdom and the European Union.
As the sovereign government of Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom has clear responsibilities, to ensure equal respect between the two communities and to protect the economic rights of its people. Our main priority must be the protection of the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement) and the restoration of executive power in Northern Ireland.
The proposals we have put forward will do this and ensure that the European Union is not negatively affected in any way. We remain committed to fulfilling our obligations to protect the EU’s single market. But as one of the signatories and a co-sponsor of the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday Agreement), the United Kingdom will take the necessary decisions to maintain peace and stability in Northern Ireland if a negotiated agreement is not possible.
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